AMD kicked off Siggraph with the launch of a new family of FirePro graphics cards: the W9000, W8000, W7000, and W5000. Aimed primarily at design and imaging applications like digital content creation, CAD/CAM, and medical imaging, the new family of FirePro cards continues AMD’s commitment to the graphics for workstations.
With the new product FirePro product family, AMD increased the performance and changed the nomenclature from “V” to “W” while maintaining some of the distinguishing features of the product family, like support for up to six displays on a single card with ATI Eyefinity technology.
The new FirePro GPUs are based on AMD’s Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture featuring up to 32 compute units, which combine vector processors with scalar co-processors, utilizing up to 4.3 billion transistors on TSMC’s leading 28nm process technology. In addition, the product family boasts dual geometry units, up to 768kb of L2 cache, up to 6GB of 384-bit GDDR5 memory supporting a memory bandwidth of 264GB/s, up to six displays, and support for PCI Gen3 with dual DMA.
At a core frequency of 975MHz and 274W of power, the W9000 is capable of up to 4 teraflops of performance. It also comes with an equally high manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) of $3,999, but most graphics cards are usually sold below the MSRP.
The W8000, W7000, and W5000 round out the family with lower performance and features at lower power levels and price points ranging from 189W to 75W and $1,599 SRP to $599, respectively. In the end, the new product family provides up to a 2x in performance over the previous FirePro product family and over some of the competing products. However, the improvements in the hardware are only half of the story.
In playing with the new FirePro product family, I noticed an incremental performance in many applications, such as Adobe’s Creative Suite 5 and a handful of games, which are not the targeted applications for this product. But, when you begin using the applications like Autodesk’s AutoCAD or Maya, which are certified for the product family, you see a dramatic difference in performance. Certified applications are software solutions that are optimized for a particular platform.
For the current crop of GPUs this usually entails being optimized to use OpenCL and other features of the platform. While OpenCL is starting be utilized for general PC applications, it is becoming a critical component for high-end graphics and compute applications ranging from gaming platforms through workstations. By increasing the utilization and efficiency of the GPU, the performance of the compute-intensive applications on workstations can achieve a performance gain of 100% or more. This translates into doing this that previously took hours or days to only minutes and hours. In the case of my limited use of these applications, I can accomplish real-time rendering, which is a major feat over previous platforms.
While platform certification and OpenCL optimization will be a major theme of Siggraph and the computing industry going forward, it would still not be possible without continued strides in hardware performance. However, with the latest crop of GPU solutions, the GPU acceleration is finally living up to its potential.
While AMD’s W9000 is aimed at high-end customized solutions, even the mainstream W8000 (the card I am currently using) and the W7000 provide impressive performance and support for up to four displays on a single card. While other parts of AMD have struggled, the graphics group, formerly ATI, has continued to provide solutions that are competitive both in performance and in price. This string of improvements continues with the new series of FirePro solutions.-Jim McGregor is founder and principal analyst for TIRIAS Research